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Kids Belong in the Kitchen

Like many folks out there, I’ve been watching the new reality show on ABC, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”. And no matter how I feel about how this has been constructed as a program (because it is 6 episodes long and they have to set up the dramatic conflicts and show Jamie suffering and not being successful at first so that they can have the victories later), there are a couple of things out of the two episodes that I have seen which I would like to discuss here that I think are very important (no matter who says them or where they are from):

1) Through various policies and procedures that have come down from the USDA in the School Lunch Program, America’s schools have been put in the position of having to balance their budgets on the backs of the kids. They have cut staff, personnel, equipment, and the quality of the food. It takes people to cook real food. It actually takes people to just reheat or ‘nuke’ food – but it does take more people hours to prepare and cook real food from scratch. You might want to take a look at what the kids in your school district are actually eating at breakfast (if you have a breakfast program) and lunch. Don’t think that it’s only kids in places like West Virginia or Mississippi who are eating chicken nuggets and chocolate milk. Kids need good food to learn. The kids are worth it.

2) Families, whether through marketing or convenience or seeming lack of time, have been put in the same position in terms of serving up processed, pre-prepared foods to their families. Aunt Toby and the DH did this, too – though basically in what we considered a good cause: we used to serve the Little Siberians frozen fish patties to get them into the thing of eating fish. Later, we got them oriented to eating plain, fresh fish. But I do wish we had not resorted to the breaded fish patties. It really does not take any more time to cook fresh fish or shrimp or scallops than it does to bake a breaded fish patty. (end of self-beating up rant)

3) Kids learn from their parents – whatever you cook and eat, they will eat also. If you eat vegetables, they will eat vegetables; if you don’t eat veggies, then don’t try to make them eat them. They’ve already learned the lesson from you that vegetables are not something they should eat. If you teach them to cook those things, they will cook and teach their kids to cook. One of Jamie Oliver’s points in the series so far is that we now have people who are parenting, whose only cooking skills consist of warming things up in a toaster oven and using a microwave oven to zap something in a package. Even if you want to do some ‘from scratch’ cooking, if you don’t have any kitchen skills, there is this ‘I’m going to ruin this” fear – and that makes it difficult to change. Oliver established a cooking school in Huntington, WV to teach everyone – parents, adults, kids, teens – how to cook. So, do a good deed: If you have kids or grandkids, teach them to cook some basic dishes. If you don’t, offer to teach kids from your ‘house of worship’ or other community groups. Volunteer to do cooking with your local county 4-H (the Cooperative Extensions usually have a big kitchen in their building).

And here is a bit of Aunt Toby:
Every kid, even as young as probably 4 or 5 years old, can be brought into the kitchen and allowed to help. Not necessarily chop or fry or get into trouble with the stove, but do actual preparation, such as:

Little Folks:
Washing their hands before they start
Washing vegetables
Helping to knead dough for bread or pizza
Spreading cut up veggies on a pizza before it goes into the oven
Setting the table

8-11 Years – here is where you can have them do more because they are more in control of themselves, but still you must monitor them and be right there:
Learning about the oven and the controls
Cooking eggs
Easy prep things that don’t involve knives, such as grating cheese
Making pizza from scratch, including kneading the dough, raising it, spreading it out on a pan, putting on sauce and toppings and putting it in the oven.
Making a salad
Making meatloaf and hamburgers
How to cook vegetables properly

12 years and up – here is where you can now give them the opportunity, with help, monitoring and guidance, with doing things such as frying, boiling, baking, using appliances such as processors and mixers, and chopping and slicing foods.

My earliest cooking memories were with my father, teaching me to make scrambled eggs when I was five years old, with me standing on the kitchen stool with a big kitchen towel safety-pinned over my clothing. He taught me how to crack an egg into a bowl, how to mix them up with a fork and pour them into the pan. He also was a real stickler for the eggs not being too dry. He also taught me how to make what he thought of as a proper hamburger, in an old heavy aluminum skillet we had, the bottom of which he covered in a layer of salt. I loved cooking with my father and the DH and I have tried to instill a love of cooking and good food with all of the Little Siberians, who are all not very little any longer.

There are things that I could not pass onto my kids as skills. I don’t know anything about electronics, for example. Or computer programming. Or plumbing repair, or putting down cement. I know very little about carpentry or welding. But I taught my kids to cook so that they could feed themselves and their families later on.

Bring the kids back into the kitchen.

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3 Comments

  1. Uta says:

    Thank you for this post! I cook mostly from scratch (guilty on the fish fingers, though!), but am often too much in a hurry to involve the kids, but I try to make an effort. Yesterday, DS (6yo) and DD (4 yo) cut up the potatoes and veggies. I read somewhere that a child CAN cook a full meal at 5 yo. Having a gas range I’m not letting the kids use it yet, though.

  2. Toby Wollin says:

    Actually, I think a gas range is safer than electric because when you turn off the burner, it’s OFF, unlike an electric Calrod unit where when you turn it off, it’s still hot and takes a while to cook down so it is still capable of burning people no matter what age they are. the other thing is that no one is advocating standing a five year old next to the stove to stir a pot of hot stew without an adult standing right there to help keep them safe. The point is not to somehow gain an extra cook with a five year old; the point is to make it an educational and bonding experience with the kids that happens to revolve around learning about different sorts of food.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by wendolen, shechemist. shechemist said: http://www.kitchencountereconomics.com/2010/03/28/kids-belong-in-the-kitchen/ good blog article about how fucked up society is about food. […]

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